Internet: The Modern Day Fire

The Charleston church shooting was a massacre and terrorist attack, that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, United States, on the evening of June 17, 2015. (Wikipedia)

Eerily, this massacre occurred a day after Donald Trump announced his run for office and tweeted # MakeAmericaGreatAgain, a campaign slogan now synonymous with nazi’s, white supremacy,  xenophobia, and racism, all ideas and notions Dylan Roofe looked forward to in what could be Trumps Americ[kkk]a. An Amerikkka of fake news and daily wild fires.

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The fallout of the domestic terrorist attack did not light a fire under congress or the house to pass gun regulation legislations nor did the killings address the systemic nationwide roots of racism as many in the media at first refused to believe this was racially motivated until it was discovered that the piece of shit of a being was a Alt-Right Neo-Nazi. The fire kept burning.

 

Information, technology and internet access in 2017 has reached a point where knowledge and truth is difficult to distinguish between lies and FAKE NEWS that run rampant and present in seemingly all corners of the modern world. No where has this contestation of truth divided a people more than those living within the United States, a nation whose president has no issues with masking or contorting the truth (All Of President Donald Trump’s Lies | The Last Word | MSNBC – YouTube in favor of making plausible the impossible in the name of white-supremacy President Donald Trump On Charlottesville: You Had Very Fine People, On Both Sides | CNBC – YouTube and questionable morals as well as ethics. (Remember when he didn’t really know who Fredrick Douglas was? Trump: Frederick Douglass ‘Has Done An Amazing Job’ – YouTube)

 

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[image from Vox comparing Obama’s inauguration crowd to Trumps. Which is bigger?]

 

I choose to equate- in the form of a metaphor- the technologies that give us access to internet and the web itself to that of fire. The creation and spread of information on the internet- similarly to fire- has become a tool one can use to keep warm and prosper or can be used as a weapon to burn others if not oneself.  Following this then we can look at a blank webpage as akin to starring at a bunch of logs in an unlit fireplace in a cold cabin or an oven burner thats turned off. Turning on, or logging in, ignites the flame that gives one the light needed to see in the dark to make out the shadows (think of Plato’s allegory of the cave Plato’s Allegory of the Cave – Alex Gendler – YouTube) that begin to offer one new possibilities for the self. Just as fire gives life so too does access the internet.

 

If not contained and monitored fires can get dangerous and cause major damage and leave burn scars. Fires spreading on the web can take the form of video, tweets, pictures or posts. (Remember, fire is not good or bad, it just is.) So how are these fires treated? Who are our online fire fighters and what is their water? Answers to this differ, but for the purposes of this post fire represents truth and knowledge production, the firefighters are online digital activists and their bucket of water to put out the flames is in the form of a #Syllabus.

 

The #Syllabus, writes Alyssa Lyons, “has emerged as a digital, crowd-sourced form of knowledge production in response to the events in Charleston, Ferguson, and the Black ives Matter movement from 2014 until today. #Syllabi are challenging and restructuring the means by which people seek and affirm knowledge. Historian Lisa A. Monroe describes them as, “critical intellectual resources [that] promote collective study both within and outside the academy during a moment of heightened racial tension.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, had released a syllabus that addressed America’s history and how Trump came to be president. One of the issues with this syllabus was that it lacked a diversity of voices, pulling from mainly white male authors and no selections that talk about and explore the experiences of people of color or the oppressed. This is why many have taken to the web to put out the bad flames destroying and dividing Americans along racial lines.

 

Those who participate in the creation of a #syllabus should be considered techno-educational-activist, which is a form of political activism that seeks egalitarian alliances and connections across difference through web platforms. It requires a mode of consciousness that replicates the digital potentialities and egalitarianism of cyberspace. By using tools that have been traditionally denied to marginalized communities, techno-educational-activists turned the tables on education inequality. They use the strategies of the oppressor, so to speak, to empower the oppressed. I do not believe a #Syllabus would be as popular without social media platforms and a community of scholars who call out bull shit when they see it and respond with a more rounded out work to better reflect whatever topic it may be.

 

While technology can be seen as bad it also has an important value in dreaming up and creating alternative realities we hope to make real. Take, for example, smartphones and their ability to communicate globally what’s occurring. The way Native Americans have utilized technology to bring attention to Standing Rock, for example, provides one the means for showing the world its problems. That same device can then be used to create art that reimagines an alternative resistance and existence.

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For many, and specifically for people of color facing systemic issues that either halt or impede learning beyond high school, with no access to higher education the #Syllabus in all its forms, topics, and iterations becomes an effective way of side stepping the academy and its bureaucratic and/or economic crap present on even the most liberal of colleges and universities. When the fire spreads uncontrollably, will you be around to put out the fire?

 

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7 thoughts on “Internet: The Modern Day Fire

  1. The making of a syllabus is also an education. I find it curious to think about the moderation of the syllabi content. How does one define what is useful or not towards a given event or phenomenon? These people are not free of bias, as we can observe in how different syllabi are structured. Some privilege books and academic publications, other blog posts, videos and more diverse content. For that reason I do not think we can consider them the collective consciousness (or firefighters) of the internet — that entails a lot of responsibility and work — but rather a resource akin to a library or other information repositories, which can and should be regarded critically.

    While studying women artists and feminist art history (which many students and scholars understand as rescuing women artists from being forgot, frequently through listing), often have I been warned: listing implies neglecting the subject/information that did not make the lineup. It is, however, an impossible but necessary operation in (self-)education. It goes back to Balsamo, Suchman and Graham and the traditional idea of system as part of a modernist epistemology that aspires to comprehend everything and be able to control it versus the feminist understanding of system, which values the relation between certain entities. Rather then striving to contain the fire that is the Internet, which does present an element of contagion, syllabi should deliver information to those in need of it, to enable and empower.

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  2. In thinking about your discussion of how technologies are being used by the marginalized to bring attention to issues, I also worry about how being so close to the fire you are stoking around a particular issue can be uncomfortable and painful and potentially very dangerous. By this I mean, when the issue you are discussing starts gaining traction in the arena of ideas that is the socialmediasphere, it seems that it forces one to also have to deflect and deal with the emotional and physical trauma of trolls, those making threats to oneself or one’s family, etc. Someone I knew in undergrad made statements bringing attention to the whitewashing of the Orlando Pulse shooting, and a video of was flung into the internet, resulting in constant terrorizing of this person via social media even years later. Lindy West, a writer, feminist, and body image/fat positivity activist had to shut down her Twitter page due to the trauma of having to deal with misogynistic and fatphobic trolls. This isn’t to say I have any great solutions to these terrible problems–it is just to lament that in the wonder of tech’s ability to highlight oppression, it also makes for a new way that oppression manifests.

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  3. The central metaphor of your piece is an apt one, I think, insofar as tools of all types by necessity have both positive and negative aspects. However, “fire” is a fascinating choice for another reason that has to do with the anthropological scholarship on the term. To whit, that tools also extend our intrinsic capabilities. Humans have a biological ability to warm ourselves, but we reach the upper limits of this capacity quickly. Fire as a technology, then, extends our biological ability, and in so doing opens up new realms (both physical and metaphorical) to us. Without the selfsame technology, however, these expanded areas are lost to us. In this sense, then, the technology co-figures the humans wielding it. I would be interested, then, to hear your reading of the internet from this perspective; that, in essence, the fire becomes (partially) indistinguishable from the people.

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  4. Your statement “I do not believe a #Syllabus would be as popular without social media platforms and a community of scholars who call out bull shit when they see it and respond with a more rounded out work to better reflect whatever topic it may be” is an interesting observation. The connection between call-out culture and academia takes on new meanings when contextualized within the form of the #Syllabus. In using a platform such as Twitter for educational purposes, one can share #Syllabi as a resource that extends far beyond one’s own word when countering racism or sexism online.

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  5. Your comment that, “For many, and specifically for people of color facing systemic issues that either halt or impede learning beyond high school, with no access to higher education the #Syllabus in all its forms, topics, and iterations becomes an effective way of side stepping the academy and its bureaucratic and/or economic crap present on even the most liberal of colleges and universities,” was an interesting one because I think that more often than not, academics are participating in the creation of hashtag syllabi. If by “sidestepping” you meant that it is a way for students to circumvent the institution itself, that could be true in cases where someone is interested in gaining knowledge but doesn’t have the means to pay for a course. Yet at the same time, the institutional seal of approval that comes in the form of a diploma isn’t sidestepped. Access to jobs are often predicated on this kind of seal, which the hashtag syllabi cannot replace.

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  6. It seems like much of your interest falls along the line of technology as an activist possibility. This makes me think of Evan Williams, one of Twitter’s founders, who envisioned Twitter as an idealistic platform, allowing mass access and non-elite opinion sharing. Horrified by the oppressive trolling that can overtake Twitter, Williams eventually launched Medium, an online blogging platform, that he hoped would offer a more “enlightened,” in-depth intellectual engagement. Of course, who among us engages with Medium more than Twitter? What do we do when it’s easier to fight fires with a platform like Medium, whose long-length form seems to encourage considered debate, but it’s easier to start them with something like Twitter, whose abbreviated structure encourages rapid (and thus, reactionary) responses?

    This conversation, especially Alison’s comment, also makes me think about cybersecurity. At the risk of seeming paranoid, two resources which might come in handy –

    A series on cybersecurity –
    https://theintercept.com/2017/04/21/cybersecurity-for-the-people-how-to-protect-your-privacy-at-a-protest/

    FYI, the feminist frequency resource is also offered in Spanish and Arabic.
    https://onlinesafety.feministfrequency.com/en/

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  7. Your fire metaphor helped me reflect on the potential benefits but also dangers of the use of the internet and social media. I appreciated your understanding of the syllabi creators as “techno-educational-activist, which is a form of political activism that seeks egalitarian alliances and connections across difference through web platforms.” I could definitely see the search for alliances and connections in syllabi like #StandingRockSyllabus, since they had a specific section on how their fight connected to others (including BLM). However, not all syllabi provided a clear connection to different struggles, or even differences within the fight. I think that your definition of “techno-educational-activists” would be a great guideline for syllabi creators to follow.

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